Margaret Atwood has chosen Barbara Gowdy’s 1998 novel The White Bone for The Globe and Mail’s new Book Club. The novel was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
Catherine Bush reviewed the book for The Globe and described it as “a quest story" that “takes its readers into an alternate world seen through the eyes of an alien intelligence.” That alien intelligence is a group of elephants, whose families have been torn apart by poachers. Those who remain embark on a search for the mythical white bone – the bleached rib bone of a newborn elephant – to lead them to a safe place.
Gowdy based her story on scientific texts and field guides, and Bush says that what the book does is “offer us a mirror of ourselves: not a straightforward reflection but the chance to imagine ourselves as elephants rather than elephants as us. This is the challenge to which Gowdy provokes us. Getting the elephants right isn’t the point. Comic, apocalyptic, faintly hopeful, The White Bone succeeds as a brave and captivating act of imagination.”
Upon hearing that her book had been selected by Atwood, Gowdy said she began to reread The White Bone: “It’s something I haven’t done since its publication. It’s like looking at an old photograph of yourself: that mild surprise and readjustment of identity. I’d forgotten who the writer was who wrote that novel, how much sustained focus she’d needed to enter the world from the point of view of another species."
Over the coming weeks, Globe Books invites readers to join in a discussion about The White Bone at tgam.ca/bookclub. To help get the conversation started, we’ll be running a series of stories examining the novel’s major themes. While Gowdy has never been a member of a book club, she has been a member of several choirs and she says, “I know how good, how invigorating, it feels to be among a group of people who share your interest in studying the bones of somebody else’s public creation. I’d love to think that The Globe and Mail Book Club will inspire readers of all ages to read novels for the challenges they offer rather than simply for the temporary escape.”
On May 24, Margaret Atwood will interview Barbara Gowdy at a live event at The Globe and Mail Centre at 351 King Street East in Toronto. The event is complimentary and open exclusively to subscribers – register here. Subscribers can also submit questions to Atwood and Gowdy via the comments on our website.